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Emergency Response

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) has the responsibility of responding to emergencies involving oil and hazardous materials, to ensure that discharges of these materials do not threaten the health of the public and environment. In response to this mandate, NJDEP maintains the Bureau of Emergency Response (BER). The bureau, headquartered in Trenton, supports two field offices strategically located for rapid response on a 24-hour basis, 7 days a week.

At the site of an incident, the emergency responder's mission is to assess the probable impact on public health and the environment, and advise local officials on the appropriate course of remediation while ensuring that DEP Technical Requirements for Site Remediation are met. In those cases where the responsible party is unknown, or cannot or will not assume responsibility for the discharge, emergency responders may access the New Jersey Spill Compensation Fund to ensure that corrective actions are not delayed.

The Bureau of Emergency Response is also responsible for acting as the state's on scene coordinator when incidents involve multiple jurisdictions, agencies and disciplines. Since October 14, 1986, BER has participated in the management of many chemical disasters such as; the Gordon Terminal Fire (Thanksgiving, 1987 pictured), the Exxon pipeline spill (January 1989), the Edison Pipeline Explosion (February 1994), the Lodi Chemical Explosion (April 1995) and the Motor Tanker Anitra Oil Spill (May-June 1996), just to name a few.

The difficult and often dangerous work performed by the emergency responder dictates the need for exceptional individuals. BER's emergency response specialists are highly trained and motivated, they must have a college degree and a minimum of one year in experience responding to hazardous materials incidents, before they can be hired. New responders complete an extensive program of training in a variety of disciplines before they are allowed to direct activities in the field. Training and drilling remain an important part of the responders' regimen throughout their careers, but these are no substitute for experience!

New Jersey Law requires that most discharges of hazardous materials be immediately reported to the NJDEP HOTLINE 1-877-WARNDEP / 1-877-927-6337. Notification of an incident is then made to an emergency response duty officer who investigates and assesses the specifics of the incident to determine the threat potential to the health of the public and environment. Generally, emergency responders are deployed immediately upon a credible report of:

  • A significant release, spill or discharge of a Toxic Catastrophe Prevention Act (T.C.P.A.) extraordinary hazardous substance.
  • An incident resulting in fatalities or multiple hospitalizations directly due to a discharge of hazardous material.
  • An incident resulting in significant residential evacuation and/or in a significant facility evacuation.
  • An incident having interstate impact.
  • Medium or major oil spills anywhere and minor spills in pristine waters.
  • Numbered highway closures directly due to a release, spill or discharge of hazardous materials.
  • An emergency requiring authorization for opening the New Jersey Spill Compensation Fund.

Incidents that do not meet immediate response criteria are referred to qualified county and local agencies for attention. Significant incidents such as major oil spills, chemical explosions or chemical fires with casualties or mass evacuations normally generate a joint regional response with the NJ State Police Office of Emergency Management. State support continues on-site until the emergency is terminated.